Haudenosaunee is the general term we use to refer to ourselves, instead of “Iroquois.” The word “Iroquois” is not a Haudenosaunee word. It is derived from a French version of a Huron Indian name that was applied to our ancestors and it was considered derogatory, meaning “Black Snakes.” Haudenosaunee means “People building an extended house” or more commonly referred to as “People of the Long House.” The longhouse was a metaphor introduced by the Peace Maker at the time of the formation of the Confederacy meaning that the people are meant to live together as families in the same house. Today this means that those who support the traditions, beliefs, values and authority of the Confederacy are to be know as Haudenosaunee.

The founding constitution of the Confederacy brought the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk nations under one law. Together they were called the Five Nations by the English, and Iroquois by the French. The Tuscarora joined around 1720, and collectively they are now called the Six Nations.

We also refer to ourselves as “Ongwehonweh,” meaning that we are the “Original People” or “First People” of this land. The Haudenosaunee is actually six separate nations of people who have agreed to live under the traditional law of governance that we call the Great Law of Peace. Each of these nations have their own identity, In one sense, these are our “nationalities.” Many of the names that we have come to know the tribes by are not even Indian words, such as Tuscarora or Iroquois. The original member nations are:

  • Seneca, “Onondowahgah,” meaning The People of the Great Hill, also referred to as the Large Dark Door.
  • Cayuga, “Guyohkohnyoh,” meaning The People of the Great Swamp.
  • Onondaga, “Onundagaono,” meaning The People of the Hills.
  • Oneida, “Onayotekaono,” meaning The People of the Upright Stone.
  • Mohawk, “Kanienkahagen,” meaning The People of the Flint/Quartz.
  • Tuscarora, known as “Ska-Ruh-Reh” meaning The Hemp Shirt Wearing People.


The Great Law is the founding constitution of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. It is an oral tradition, codified in a series of wampum belts now held by the Onondaga Nation. It defines the functions of the Grand Council and how the native nations can resolve disputes between themselves and maintain peace.

The Peacemaker traveled among the Iroquois for many years, spreading his message of peace, unity and the power of the good mind. Oral history says that it may have taken him forty some years to reach everyone…[and that] he was met with much skepticism…he continued and was able to persuade fifty leaders to receive his message. He gathered them together and recited the passages of the Great Law of Peace. He assigned duties to each of the leaders…he selected the women as the Clan Mothers, to lead the family clans and select the male chiefs…The Peace Maker then established clans among the Haudenosaunee as a way to unite the Five Nations and as a form of social order.

…A clan is a group of families that share a common female ancestry. Members of one clan are considered relatives and intermarriage in the same clan is forbidden. Clans are named after animals that give special assistance to the people – water (turtle, eel, beaver); land (bear, deer, wolf), sky (snipe, heron, hawk). Clanship identity is very important to the Haudenosaunee. The Chiefs were to use the power of their minds to reason, to figure what was best for the welfare of the people… We are to view the chiefs like a circle of standing trees, supporting the Tree of Peace that grows in the middle. They help to keep it from falling over…

The hardest part of the Great Law is to understand the meaning of the concept of peace. Peace is not simply the absence of war. In the Iroquoian mind, peace is a state of mind…Each individual has a base spiritual power. As you go through life as Haudenosaunee, experience different things, learn more, comprehend more and tap into other forms of spiritual power, your own spirit grows as well. The old timers called it orenda. Everyone is thought to have it to some degree. It effects how we do things. Good minds have strong orenda. So the ultimate power of the Great Law rests in how well the individual person develops their sense of self…in regard to the well-being of the others in the clan, in the village, in the nation and in the Confederacy of the Six Nations.


Nature as a sacred totality

To students of religion, the closest example of what may be termed nature worship is perhaps most apparent in ancient or nonliterate cultures in which there is a high god as the lord in heaven who has withdrawn from the immediate details of the governing of the world. This kind of high god–the Deus otiosus, hidden, or idle, god–is one who has delegated all work on earth to what are called “nature spirits,” which are the forces or personifications of the forces of nature. High gods exist, for example, in such indigenous religions on Africa’s west coast as that of the Dyola of Guinea. In such religions the spiritual environment of man is functionally structured by means of personified natural powers, or nature spirits.

Pantheism (a belief system in which God is equated with the forces of the universe) or deism (a belief system based on a non-intervening creator of the universe), as was advocated in the rationalistic philosophy of religion of western Europe of the 16th to 18th centuries, is not appropriate in studies of nature worship in preliterate cultures. Worship of nature as an omnipotent entity, in the pantheistic sense, has not as yet been documented anywhere.

The power or force within nature that has most often been venerated, worshipped, or held in holy awe is mana. Mana, often designated as “impersonal power” or “supernatural power,” is a term used by Polynesians and Melanesians that 19th-century Western anthropologists appropriated to apply to that which affected the common processes of nature. Mana was conceptually linked to North American Indian terms that conveyed the same or similar notions–e.g., orenda of the Iroquois, wakan of the Dakotas, and manitou of the Algonkin. Neither the designation “impersonal power” nor “supernatural power” implies what mana really means, however, because mana usually issues from persons or is used by them, and the concept of a supernatural sphere as distinct or separate from a natural sphere is seldom recognized by preliterate peoples.

Thus, a better designation for mana is “super force” or “extraordinary efficiency.” A person has mana when he is successful, fortunate, and demonstrates extraordinary skill–e.g., as an artisan, warrior, or chief. Mana can also be obtained from the atuas (gods), providing that they themselves possess it. Derived from a root term that has aristocratic connotations, mana corresponds to Polynesian social classifications. The ariki, or alii, the nobility of Polynesia, have more power (mana), and the area that belongs to them and even the insignia associated with them have mana. Besides areas and symbolic elements that are associated with the ariki, many objects and animals having special relationships with chiefs, warriors, or priests have mana.

The concept of hasina of the Indonesian Hova (or Merina) on Madagascar is very similar to mana. It demonstrates the same aristocratic root character as the word mana, which is derived from the Indonesian manang (“to be influential, superior”).

The Iroquoian term orenda, similar to mana, designates a power that is inherent in numerous objects of nature but that does not have essential personification or animistic (soul) elements. Orenda, however, is not a collective omnipotence. Powerful hunters, priests, and shamans have orenda to some degree. The wakanda, or wakan, of the Sioux Indians is described similarly, but as Wakan-Tanka it may refer to a collective unity of gods with great power (wakan). The manitou of the Algonkin is not merely an impersonal power, comparable to the wakan, that is inherent in all things of nature but is also the personification of numerous manitous (powers), with a Great Manitou (Kitchi-Manitou) at the head. These manitous may even be designated as protective spirits that are akin to those of other North American Indians, such as the digi of the Apaches, boha of the Shoshones, and maxpe of the Crow, as well as the sila of the Eskimos.

The super forces (such as Mulungu, Imana, Jok, and others in Africa) that Western scholars have noted outside of the Austronesian-American circles of peoples are often wrongly interpreted as concepts of God. Only the barakah (derived from the pre-Islamic thought world of the Berbers and Arabs), the contagious superpower (or holiness) of the saints, and the power Nyama in western Sudan that works as a force within large wild animals, certain bush spirits, and physically handicapped people–appearing especially as a contagious power of revenge–may be added with a certain justification to that force of nature that is designated by mana. A striking similarity with mana may also be noted in the concepts of heil (good omen), saell (fortunate), and hamingja (luck) of the Germanic and Scandinavian peoples.

Heaven and earth as sacred spaces, forces, or processes

Heaven and earth, as personified powers of nature and thus worthy of worship, are evidently not of equal age. Though from earliest times heaven was believed to be the residence of a high being or a prominent god, the earth as a personified entity is much rarer; it probably first occurred among archaic agrarian civilizations, and it continues to occur in some primitive societies in which agriculture is practiced. Gods of heaven, however, are characteristic spiritual beings of early and contemporary hunter and collector cultures and are found in almost all cultures.

Primitive world views generally assume the earth to be simply given (i.e., as continuously existing). Sometimes the earth is believed to have emerged out of chaos or a primal sea or to have come into existence by the act of a heavenly god, transformer, or demiurge (creator). Even in such world views, however, the earth usually remains without a divine owner, unless through agriculture and the cult of the dead the earth is conceived as the underworld or as the source of the renewing powers of nature. The fact that heaven is animated by rain-giving clouds (with lightning and thunder) and by a regular chorus of warming and illuminating celestial bodies (sun, moon, and stars) led to concepts of the personification of heaven from earliest times.

Papal Bull

A papal bull is a particular type of letters patent or charter issued by a Pope of the Catholic Church. It is named after the lead seal (bulla) that was appended to the end in order to authenticate it.

Unam Sanctum

On 18 November 1302, Pope Boniface VIII issued the Papal bull Unam sanctam which some historians consider one of the most extreme statements of Papal spiritual supremacy ever made. The original document is lost but a version of the text can be found in the registers of Boniface VIII in the Vatican Archives. The Bull lays down dogmatic propositions on the unity of the Catholic Church, the necessity of belonging to it for eternal salvation, the position of the pope as supreme head of the Church, and the duty thence arising of submission to the pope in order to belong to the Church and thus to attain salvation. The pope further emphasizes the higher position of the spiritual in comparison with the secular order.

The main propositions of the Bull are the following: First, the unity of the Church and its necessity for salvation are declared and established by various passages from the Bible and by reference to the one Ark of the Flood, and to the seamless garment of Christ. The pope then affirms that, as the unity of the body of the Church so is the unity of its head established in Saint Peter and his successors. Consequently, all who wish to belong to the fold of Christ are placed under the dominion of Peter and his successors.